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Lok Sabha elections 2024: Modi steps up attacks on opposition welfare plan as India votes

Modi claimed at a rally in Rajasthan on Tuesday that the Congress’s pledges mean the party would take wealth away from those who have it, especially the gold jewellery Indian women traditionally receive when married.
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 06:29 IST
Last Updated : 25 April 2024, 06:29 IST

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By Swati Gupta and Sudhi Ranjan Sen for Bloomberg

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi doubled down on his attacks against the main opposition party by using language critics say sows division between the country’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority.

Modi told three election rallies in the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh this week that the Indian National Congress would redistribute property and wealth and give it to minorities. While not specifically referencing Muslims in each of the speeches, he’s used words like “infiltrators” and “special people” to allude to them.

The two states where he spoke, in India’s northern Hindi-speaking belt, have voted for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in past elections. The BJP swept them both in 2019, winning all but one seat in Rajasthan and 62 out of 80 in UP.

The comments — which come in the midst of India’s six-weeks of elections — mark a shift in Modi’s tone. His party’s star campaigner, Modi spent much of the early part of his campaign highlighting the country’s economic progress and support measures to help the poor.

Opposition leaders have labeled some of Modi’s comments this week as “hate speech” and asked the Election Commission of India to take action. Human rights activists have also raised concerns about the comments, calling on the commission to enforce its guidelines that forbid parties from sowing communal tension.

“It is particularly disappointing that the prime minister, whose administration has boasted of its non-discriminatory welfare policies, should now create these communal narratives around social and economic justice,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch.

The Election Commission of India has so far declined to comment on the matter.

The BJP has defended Modi’s comments and some leaders have even fanned the tension.

On Tuesday, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister in Uttar Pradesh who is known for his fiery rhetoric against Muslims, claimed the Congress party would implement Sharia — or Islamic religious law — if voted into power.

Gaurav Bhatia, national spokesman for the BJP, said earlier this week that Modi was “echoing the sentiments of every citizen of our country who believes in equality.” He went on to say that for the opposition alliance “people who have illegally entered our country are far more important than the citizens of the country if they happen to be Muslims, and it takes a lot of courage to call a spade a spade.”

Modi is “using polarizing rhetoric to activate his cadre” base, said Mujibur Rehman, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Jamia Millia Islamia, a university based in Delhi. “Modi is campaigning hard and wants to significantly add to his existing numbers in the parliament.” The comments perhaps show the BJP may be unsure it can reach its coalition target of 400 seats in parliament, he said.

The BJP’s attacks on the Congress party has centered around a long-standing pledge by the opposition to improve the living standards of a range of groups, including socially-backward classes, the poor and minorities.

During campaigning, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called for a comprehensive survey to be done to ascertain the social and economic disparity between different classes in India. The Congress’s election manifesto outlines a set of measures it will take to redress inequalities and improve opportunities for those left behind. The report doesn’t specifically mention wealth redistribution.

Modi claimed at a rally in Rajasthan on Tuesday that the Congress’s pledges mean the party would take wealth away from those who have it, especially the gold jewelry Indian women traditionally receive when married.

“All your wealth, whatever is in excess, they will seize it and their government will then distribute it to people,” Modi said. “They have written it in their manifesto that they will survey your wealth and the female wealth that our mothers and sisters have,” he added, pointing to a sacred gold chain that married Hindu women wear.

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Published 25 April 2024, 06:29 IST

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